Rundlet-May House

House and Landscape Plan

James Hales Plan, 1812

This plan rendered by J. G. Hales in 1812 depicts the Rundlets’ house as a typical Neoclassical building of its time, with an L-shaped wing extending out the back of the house.  Orchards comprised some of the garden plan, which is a regimented partitioning of room-like settings with pathways.  The pathways are still maintained today, so even though this plan is somewhat idealised and pared down in the rendering, it demonstrates that the layout of the grounds and pathways have not changed much since the plan originated in 1812. On the plan is also depicted a fence that runs between the house and drive, and drive and fence in the service yard. Lombardy poplars may have been planted in front of the house, with lilacs framing the rear of the property.  The plan also depicts the house before the Summer Kitchen (Scullery) was added on. 

Building the House

An 1807 Showplace in Portsmouth

Building a house in Portsmouth in the first years of the nineteenth century was an undertaking that often involved an emerging class of craftmen, artisans, and workers who contructed many parts of the city that can still be seen today. As Portsmouth had faced much expansion during the shipbuilding era with a population rivaling port cities of Boston and Salem to the south, new houses were built by ship owners and those active in the trade eager to partake in the strong economy and opportunity at hand. By about 1800, the emerging elite that benefited from trade and privateer pursuits overall were interested in forging a path to a more open countryside to build their homes; Portsmouth’s Middle Street was just far enough from the bustling harbor and business area to feel removed. It also allowed the Rundlets an expansive bountiful space to build a property of unparalleled luxury that came with great technological innovations.  

Making a Template Visible

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Historic Paint Cross Section

Template Uncovering the Original Paint

In order to discover the original paint of the hall, a deep chip was removed from the wall and its cross section examined through a microscope, revealing each layer of paint. In this cross section from the hall, four individual layers of red paint were used to create the original wall treatment, followed by a single layer of modern white paint. The four original paint layers contained hand-ground pigments of various sizes, creating a depth in the color that was more like canvas painting than modern wall painting. As part of the restoration of the Eustis mansion, Historic New England hired specialized decorative painters to recreate the four layers of red in the hallway, restoring it to the original Pompeiian red.

Base layer of red paint.

Second layer of red paint.

Third layer of red paint.

Top layer of red varnish.

Modern white latex paint, now painted over.

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Test Hales Plan

This is the Hales Plan

Template Dumbwaiter

A dumbwaiter was included in the china closet so that food could easily be sent from the kitchen upstairs to the night nursery where the three Eustis children took many of their meals.

Template Elevator

The builders’ plans for the mansion indicate that was originally an elevator installed in the house, which would have been a simple cab that was used primarily for wood. An electric sawmill in the basement was used to cut wood to the proper size. The current elevator cab was upgraded in the early twentieth century.

Template Safe

This safe is located in the China Closet and would have housed the family silver and other valuable pieces. When the outermost door is closed it appears to hide a regular closet, but when opened reveals two different doors sets that lie beneath. The first is a faux wood grained metal door that locks with a key, and the second is a set of double metal doors, also faux wood grained, that open with a knob.

Template Telephone Room

This telephone room was installed after the house’s initial construction when the Eustises replaced the Western Electric telephone that had been installed closer to the front door. As telephone conversations became more commonplace, the need for privacy prompted the addition of this tiny room.

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Template Hall Table

This long rectangular table has served as a centerpiece in the entrance hall since the house was built. Its impressive carving is in the style of the Italian Renaissance, a popular source for design in the late nineteenth century. One of the most notable practitioners in this style was the Italian carver Luigi Frullini (1839-1897) who worked for many wealthy Americans, most notably completing the decoration of two rooms at Chateau-sur-Mer in Newport. The Eustises believe that Frullini carved the panels flanking the sideboard in the dining room.